Fresh rains should make scenting conditions fantastic this weekend
PHOENIX — Bird lovers: Forget the turkey. The day after Thanksgiving is the Mearns’ quail hunting season opener.
“This will probably be one of the best Mearns’ seasons in my lifetime,” Randy Babb, an ardent quail hunter and the Information and Education Program Manager for the Game and Fish Department’s Mesa regional office.
Nov. 28 kicks off a season that looks to be one that will go down in the record books report Game and Fish biologists. Last year’s season (2007-08) was one of the best in years; combine that with all the well-timed seasonal rains this summer and the result should provide superb back-to-back seasons.
“The amount of coveys we encountered last year on any given day of hunting was easily in the double digits, depending on how long we hunted,” said Babb.
Babb says the rainfall that came in spring and summer of 2008 should provide all the ingredients for excellent reproduction from the healthy holdover populations of last season.
“Hunters should keep their eyes open for cottontails while they hunt the rolling scrub-oak covered grasslands in southern Arizona," adds Babb. "Their numbers are up due to the excellent conditions, and they make a tasty addition to any quail dinner.”
The season runs from Nov. 28, 2008 until Feb. 8, 2009. The daily bag limit for this challenging polka-dotted game bird is eight. A general hunting license is required for hunters 14 and older. Hunters are reminded that a 2009 license is required to hunt beginning Jan. 1, 2009. Licenses are available at all department offices and more than 300 license dealers statewide. (Click here for the regulations on quail season and other small game, see page 69.)
The southern Arizona country that Mearns’ inhabit will be very active this time of the year with other outdoor enthusiasts including rifle deer season. Hunters are encouraged to wear “hunter orange” when taking to the field to make their presence visible to all other users in the field.
About Mearns’ quail hunting
Mearns’ quail occur primarily in southern Arizona in the grassland hillsides with about a 30 percent over-story of oak or occasionally mesquite or other trees. Their diet consists of underground bulbs and tubers that they dig for with their long toenails. A good indication that birds are in the area is to check north facing hillsides, draws, or cutbacks for extensive fresh diggings (still moist soil) around grassy areas.
While many hunters prefer to catch the birds in the open flats, these “draws,” and “fingers” in the terrain can provide a good place to find birds, although a clear shooting lane might be harder to come by.
Do I need a dog to hunt Mearns’?
It is highly recommended. Mearns’ hold extremely tight which makes them nearly impossible to locate without a well-trained hunting dog. Many consider Mearns’ the most difficult species of quail to hunt.
With that said, is not impossible to hunt them without a dog. In addition, if there is a year to take on the challenge, this is the one. Obviously, your success will be much lower than those who follow a brace of pointers.
However, once a covey is located, a hunter must methodically work the area, kicking every bush and piece of cover to get the birds up. This year’s birds may be more likely to flush and can offer some shooting. Montezuma quail typically flush only a short distance and it is often difficult to find single birds.
Dogless-hunters should focus their efforts in areas that are less favorable to those with dogs to minimize their competition and put them on birds that may not subjected to hunting pressure. Try areas that are closer to the 6,000-foot elevation with more oak and juniper woodland cover and steeper terrain. These areas should hold bird and offer determined hunters a chance a bagging this coveted bird.
Suggested hunting method is to work with a partner, have one guy a third of the way up the slope and another just off the base in the bottom and work together. Even that will be difficult, as the birds hold so tight you are likely to walk right by them. Your best hope is to stumble right into the middle of them. Start by hunting the bottom of the draws. Hunters will always find more birds in less accessible areas, especially as the season progresses.
Some dedicated hunters will hunt them much like Coues’ deer hunting, driving to the end of a back road then hike away from the roadway to have some great-undisturbed Mearns’ country. While you might only bag a few birds, and a rabbit or two, the solitary time in the field is always worth the extra effort.
If you find you have reached your Mearns’ limit, drop down in elevation and chase Gambel’s quail in the lower desert (2,500-3,500 elevation) to finish up your aggregate quail bag limit of 15 (only eight may be Mearns’) and take home two species of quail in one day – which is very rare.
If you are adventurous, and you haven’t worn out your dogs, try hitting the open grasslands as sunset for scaled quail and take on the three species quest, the quail bonanza, or what some call - the quail grand slam. If there is a year that this challenge is worth taking up – this one might just be the one.
Keep your head down, swing smooth and be safe!
Safety Note: If you are a guest of another hunter with dogs, do not shoot rabbits on the ground. Ground shots should only be taken when the dog is healed or on a leash and the handler instructs that it is okay.
Note to media: News pegs for quail hunting include the history of hunting and gathering of food; the economic impact that hunters bring to local and rural communities; the role hunters play in the environment and conservation; and the cultural of hunting in the Southwest. Photos and video of Mearns’ hunting are available on request. Contact Public Information Officer, Doug Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.